At the end of last week, a restaurant review “went viral” because that’s the world we live in now. Writing for the Grand Forks Herald, Marilyn Hagerty reviewed the new Olive Garden in Grand Forks. She went, she explains, in the middle of the afternoon, six weeks after it opened, because prior to that the lines had been too long. For the most part, the review is actually just a list of facts about the Olive Garden: how much their lunch special costs, the fact that they have a full liquor license, and that there is seating near the entrance for people who are waiting for a table. It’s all very matter of fact.

At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water.

Right. Later, Marilyn says that when she returns to the restaurant on a hot summer’s day, she will get the recommended raspberry lemonade. All in all, she gives the restaurant a rave review and the whole thing has the faint whiff of parody that accompanies anything done with genuine earnestness these days. If someone seems to actually care about what they’re doing, it’s got to be a joke. In any case, the review got picked up by blogs or whatever, and has hundreds of thousands of views, which means that the whole thing is now a genuine “news story.” Or so claims the news. Here is a nationally broadcast television interview with the reviewer, Marilyn Hagerty, about her experience at the Olive Garden and what it’s like to “go viral”:

Oy oy oy. (One could make the argument that CBS This Morning is hardly news, but it is watched by millions of people and purports to deliver some form of informational content. It’s close enough.) Talk about parody! This entire segment feels like it was made for the Onion News Network podcast. “What does it feel like to go viral?” QUIT YOUR JOB AND GO LIE DOWN IN YOUR BED AND TURN OFF ALL THE LIGHTS.

I’m sure this isn’t a new phenomenon. The news has long struggled to fill its airtime with information about the world we live in without bumming everyone the fuck out. People can only take so much of what is actually going on and then at a certain point you apparently do need to interview the owner of a dog who thinks it’s a piano or what have you. So, it’s hard to argue that the Internet is somehow responsible for this. Although it does seem like what used to be fodder for a Jay Leno desk piece is becoming increasingly less comedic and more “news-worthy.” But the worst part about the LAMESTREAM media’s attempts to cover the big on-line stories is the ways in which its generous air of positivity and “light news content” doesn’t jibe with what it’s actually reporting. There is something dark and sinister about the viral success of The Olive Garden review. It wasn’t popular because it’s charming or displays a previously undiscovered talent. When Marilyn Hagerty happily describes that people sent her emails telling her that she was pathetic, she taps into the black heart of the Internet. And the scrambling attempts of the interviewers to remind her that she isn’t pathetic at all and that most of America appreciates her work is itself pathetic, not to mention wrong. I’m not sure that we have the time or the attention span to get into the painfully disheartening reality of a world in which people feel compelled to write a what has to have been grammatically impossible message to a complete stranger out of the blue to tell her that she is pathetic just because they casually scanned something she wrote during their lunch break at their own much-hated jobs. We talked about this last week. I think it’s a real problem. But the cruel email messages aside, the more painful truth that those cruel emails suggest is that we are all feeding on this same yucky energy, like the citizens of New York in Ghostbusters II, getting into screaming arguments in the street without even realizing that it was because of the haunted slime coursing through the sewers below them.

When I say that the news shouldn’t talk about the Internet, it’s not just because it’s not actually news, although that’s definitely true. It’s because unless we’re ready to tell the whole story, then it’s not actually true. At the very least, even if you are reporting on something that hardly deserves it, at least tell the real story. Which is that people are bored and small-hearted and even if they do not hold any hatred in their heart for the humble restaurant reviews of an aging and seemingly kind midwestern woman, they certainly enjoy feeling superior to others at every opportunity, because life is so full of the opposite. Most of us, on an all too regular basis, feel the opposite of superior, which is a heavy weight to bear on top of all the other things we have to deal with (death, loneliness, AmEx bills). But so if you work for the news, don’t trot the Marilyn Hagertys of the world out onto the big stage unless you’re ready to actually shine the real light on them, which is a sort of dim, greasy, ultraviolet thing that points out all of our blood and semen stains, like some kind of Very Special National Subconscience webisode of Room Raiders.

Either that, or people just really like Olive Garden getting the critical respect it has long deserved.

Comments (42)
  1. Gabe, for the love of Ray J, what was in that email you got last week?

  2. Surprisingly, the review was actually negative

    “By the way, her readers will recognize that as a fairly negative review
    since she spent a lot more time on the ambience than the food:

    ‘The chicken Alfredo ($10.95) was warm and comforting on a cold day. The
    portion was generous. My server was ready with Parmesan cheese.’ “

  3. “See Bill, we’re just stuck in a world dominated by a Ghostbusters 2 “slime in the sewers” paradigm. It is of the utmost importance that Ghostbusters 3 be made, with all the original cast members, so that we can move beyond this hatred and make the world a better place, you jerk” -Dan Aykroyd, via cruel email to Bill Murray

  4. Anybody else really wish they could watch a Room Raiders marathon now?

    • But in all seriousness, I was actually just discussing this with my mom last night and we agreed that the whole thing was really mean-spirited. I felt the same way about “Friday” going viral. If the internet needs to be a giant asshole about people doing stuff, can they at least cut children and old people some slack?

      • If we cut children and old people slack, how will children become old people and how will old people begin to long for death? Maybe we are part of a maturing process and a letting go process. eHakuna iMatata.

      • To me the difference in this lady and Rebecca Black is that Rebecca Black totally courted fame and notoriety, and was ready to cash in on iTunes the next day. This sweet little lady was just genuinely giving her authentic and kindhearted opinion of a chain restaurant, with no idea of the implications of doing so in the blackhearted world in which we live.

  5. I don’t really think an Olive Garden review needs to be any longer than the phrase “delicious, overpriced garbage.”

  6. Fun game: take a drink* every time they say the word “viral” in that clip

    *of raspberry lemonade

  7. When she says mid-day, she means dinner, right?

  8. Hey, let’s have a laugh at an out-of-touch relic that talks in an over-simplified way that none of us can really relate to. Oh, and they’re interviewing a nice old lady, too!

  9. “…which is a sort of dim, greasy, ultraviolet thing that points out all of our blood and semen stains…”

    Now THAT is what I expect in a review for Olive Garden.

  10. My issue with the news talking about the internet is the increasingly ludicrous age gap between the people reporting and what they are reporting on. That is to say, most things that happen on the internet are perpetrated by young people, and the news is filled with oldie oldersons.

    A perfect example of this is the “Aqua Teen Bombings” in Boston, in which the entire city of Boston FREAKED OUT and shut down the entire subway system and highway system because someone discovered a guerrilla marketing campaign for Aqua Teen Hunger Force (essentially, they found some light brights in the shape of two villains from the show nailed onto some road signs and thought that the lights were BOMBS that were going to EXPLODE and destroy EVERYTHING WONDERFUL ABOUT BOSTON). I was watching Fox News when they reported it, and one reporter interpreted the signs as a warning form an anarchist/satanic cult. None of them were young/smart enough to a) know what the image was or b) look up the image on the internet, and realize that it was just some stupid cartoon.

    tl;dr: old people report the news, young people make it; there is a disparity.


    never forget.

    • Haha hah — you remember the Aqua Teen Bomb Scare! You’re SO OLD!

      • Well it’s still better than the time the news thought The Snorks’ advertising campaign was actually a signal of offshore radiation coming from 3 mile island.

        That’s right. I’m 700 years old.

      • I worked in the news then and reported on it with the angle that people in Boston are idiots. I also AIM’d my colleague there to let them know it was from that ATHF and they need to calm the fuck down. I actually think CBS was the first group to report it was a stunt for a show. I will assume bc of me.

        Also, I’m so old I worked in the news back then. For CBS.

        • This makes you an American Hero. I remember being stunned at how the news was running with this terror story.

          Although, even after it was revealed to be ATHF, I remember being stunned at how the news STILL took a tone of “Tsk tsk, these vandals stooped to terrorizing us, just to advertise some obscure cartoon!” That was great reporting. No need to mention A, it’s not obscure to its target audience, or B, the only ones who “terrorized” anyone were YOU*, news people!

          *Not you, badidea. Thanks for your service.

  11. What the fuck else are you gonna do in Grand Forks, North Dakota? But seriously, I read somewhere how she reviews ALL the restaurants that come to Grand Forks. Including Applebee’s and apparently even KFC once? So, internet, you are late and mean and not even cool.

  12. She’s an Olive Garden patsy. A total walking advertisement. This is all a big scam on their end! She is on the OG payroll. Trust no one. Ever.

  13. Well, that was depressing, but I totally agree.

    • I agree with Gabe, but the media has been doing this forever. Pre-Internet. It’s not really anything new, it’s just faster and probably a bit more prevalent.

  14. yes, it is definitely not marilyn who is pathetic, pretty lady newscaster, it’s your show that is pathetic.

    (does that mean that i’m part of the mean internet machine caused by the river of slime hate coursing through my wireless adapter straight into my soul? :( )

    • No, it means you’re holding those newscasters to a higher standard than they hold themselves. Their show is pathetic.

      Ugh. I finally watched the clip (I commented above before watching it) and it made me want to give good ol’ Marilyn a hug — she’s nice! — but I wanted to smack those anchors. Gabe nailed it: the internet is complicated and to sum it up as “foodies went wild” is ludicrous. You’d have to address the specific place Olive Garden holds in the culture of different demographics, how at least two demographics collided here (plus now a third, this moronic TV show), how memes work, how boredom and anonymity work, how people try to fit themselves into their culture — Oh god, I’ll shut up. You get it. You all get it.

      • Do you live inside my head?

        • Maybe. I’ll tell you what I can see from where I sit: post-its with doodles, a big coffee mug, a picture of a duck who is smiling, a calendar that was half price because it was January 8, a Pez dispenser from some holiday gift event, a promotional shot glass that says “BOOM!”, a box from amazon, this videogum page, a huuuuuge pile of stuff, and email. Does this sound like the inside of your head?

          • I have the Interspecies Friends 2012 calendar and a snoring dog next to me… But, yes.

            Oh and 80 percent of my head is currently filled with serious loathing, but my guess is that that is implied.

  15. like viral videos, and hatred on the internet, that CBS news clip can’t be stopped. seriously, where is the pause button, CBS?

  16. UR just a idiot blogger u wish u “went viral” lolz go back to ur small NYC apt and kill urself the werld will be a better plaec KONY 2012

  17. Oh, I don’t know. I’ll grant you that the tone of that interview was gross and condescending. (“Congratulations!”) But I’m less convinced that the yucky energy superiority thing is what was really behind the review going viral. To me, the Marilyn Hagerty story was charming in a way that’s similar to that video of the old person eating the pop rocks. Which is still condescension, I guess, but at least it’s not mean-spirited and awful.

    That said, this opinion is coming from someone who legit loves the Olive Garden. That salad dressing is salty as the sea!

  18. I can’t wait to see the SXSW panel discussing this. I’m just kidding, I’d rather have my eyes clawed out by ravens.

  19. Her reviews are warm and soothing. Even her negatives are presented in such a happy way. The reviews read as if your favorite grandmother is reading it you. Not like that other bitch Nana. She knows what she did.

  20. Gabe, thank you for pointing this out. I read the incredibly snarky Gawker piece referencing this review and thought, “Well, crap, there’s just another piece of evidence for the next time someone trots out the liberal media elite stereotype.” Sigh.

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